Updated: Jun 2
There is a direct correlation between our views of money and our relationship with donors. By identifying our relationship to money, we can often diagnose or predict the outcomes we will have with donors.
Throughout our lives, we’ve held a myriad of beliefs about money. Money has been:
A coveted allowance
A product of our labor
A diminishing flash in a pan
A means to an end
A dirty rag of the privileged
A gift to be enjoyed
A renewable resource
As professional fundraisers, we might try to get away with stuffing our personal associations with money aside in order to tow the party line in front of donors: wealth is an opportunity to enable your dreams for the world. If we don’t intrinsically believe that, it will show. If we don’t wrestle with our underlying fears or anxieties around money, we will manage fearful and anxious relationships with donors.
There are three possible postures between fundraiser and donor: subservient, managing, and missional. It’s important to accurately self identify our natural bent in order to more fully step into the vision that we have for our work. Which posture do you most commonly gravitate towards?
The Subservient Posture
The fundraiser is subservient to the donor. This is the Oliver Twist posture – “please sir, may I have some more?” This is common. In our experience, about 65 percent of fundraisers naturally operate from this posture. Because money equates to value, power, and status in our culture, it’s so easy to treat the giving of money as an undeserved act. It feels like the donor is the powerful benefactor and we’re the lowly beneficiaries.
Now, this posture can work – it can raise money. And the donor experience can be positive. But we believe this posture has a lower ceiling by constantly deferring to the donor instead of the fundraiser taking a more proactive, partnering role.
The subservient posture is generally rooted in fear or anxiety around money. For many of us, it’s easy to mistake money as a currency for worth. Those that have money are worthy, more valuable, and we are not. In the end, when we sit across the dinner table with a wealthy person, there is a dynamic occuring rooted in our own insecurities.
For those of us that struggle with feeling subservient to our donors, we value ourselves too little and use money as a false currency.
The Managing Posture
The fundraiser controls the donor. In this posture, the fundraiser’s revenue goals are most important. And donors are treated as assets to exceeding the goal. In this posture, the fundraiser is laser focused on efficiency, persuasion, and closing the deal.
This posture too, can be very effective. But like the first, the control posture has its limits. Hurried asks occur. More shallow, less long-term relationships are formed. Donor fatigue can happen. And ultimately, there is less connection between the donor and the bigger story to which they are participating.
Another fear-based relationship with money is operating under the surface. Like the subservient posture, the control posture also uses money as the currency of value. But instead of valuing ourselves too little, we inflate our value to the point where our success is the primary goal. So, raising more money equates to proving our own worth.
In both the subservient and the control posture, money is given improper value. It either validates our unworthiness or it validates our significance. It’s either something unattainable or its something to conquer. In either case, fundraisers’ relationship with money is an essential factor in how we interact with donors.
The Missional Posture
The third posture we want to discuss is where a missional relationship is formed between the fundraiser and donor. This posture is both deeply rewarding personally but also presents the opportunity for the greatest level of generosity.
In this posture, fundraiser and donor develop a mutual relationship by sharing and listening to one another’s stories. Once personal connection and trust is formed, fundraiser and donor go shoulder to shoulder and set their sights on making a missional impact on the world.
A missional relationship may look like this: A fundraiser, in the first or second meeting with a donor, may say, “my hope is that I can partner with you in connecting your deepest passions with someone else’ deepest needs. I’d like to be a kind of missional partner with you if that’s helpful.” This establishes a mutuality between a fundraiser and donor. The donor has a story worth acting upon and the fundraiser is confident in their vocation. Over time, the relationship strengthens and becomes a sort of friendship on a mission.
The goal is clear: “let’s get to know each other so we can have an impact on the world together.”
It is in this posture that the fundraiser becomes an agent of generosity, not just a recipient or administrator of a charitable gift. Fundraiser and donor are on mission together, working to express their story in a generous, creative, restorative way.
Our view of money, with this posture, is redemptive. Money is a currency, not of self worth, but of personal and cultural values. If we value the restoration of others, our money generously flows to restorative projects with joy.
But how do we reverse a lifetime of fear-based beliefs about money in order to build missional relationships?
I still remember the feeling I had when the nonprofit I was working for received our first $10,000 check. It was just after we received 501(c)(3) status and it was our first gift. Before this gift, I held a strong subservient posture toward donors because I believed that money was hard to come by and hard to part with. This donor was not wealthy, but had just received dividends on the sale of the company they worked for. They had given us a percentage of that income. Over the years, this donor has significantly shifted my view of money from something to be feared to something to move around. They’ve helped me see that it’s not a snake as much as a garden hose.
It is possible that a missional relationship with a donor can change you. As fundraisers, we can, and should allow relationships with donors to transform us. In the same way that we hope a donor will be transformed by participating with our organization, we can be transformed by our relationship with the donor. We arrive willing to have our minds changed about money. We do this by entering into a type of relationship that resembles vulnerability.
Missional relationships are difficult for this reason. We have to discover, authentically, the other person - who are they, what has shaped them, what brings them joy and breaks their heart? This occurs through storytelling and listening. When we discover one another’s identities and vocations. When we understand a bit about the other’s story and hopes for a better world, community, life. When we are willing to be known.